Thursday 9 December 2010

JRR Tolkien and the 'good German' - The Lost Road fragment


Christopher Tolkien, from The Lost Road:

"From Elendil's words at the end of The Lost Road there emerges a sinister picture: the withdrawal of the besotted and aging king from the public view, the unexplained disappearance of people unpopular with the 'government', informers, prisons, torture, secrecy, fear of the night; propaganda in the form of the 'rewriting of history' (...); the multiplication of weapons of war, the purpose of which is concealed but guessed at; and behind all the dreadful figure of Sauron, the real power, surveying the whole land from the Mountain of Numenor. 

"The teaching of Sauron has led to the invention of ships of metal that traverse the seas without sails, but which are hideous in the eyes of those who have not abandoned or forgotten Tol-Eressea; to the building of grim fortresses and unlovely towers; and to missiles that pass with a noise like thunder to strike their targets many miles away. 

"Moreover, Numenor is seen by the young as overpopulous, boring, 'over-known': "every tree and grass-blade is counted", in Herendil's words; and this cause of discontent is used, it seems, by Sauron to further the policy of "imperial" expansion and ambition that he presses on the king. 

"When at this time my father reached back to the world of the first man to bear the name "Elf- friend" he found there an image of what he most condemned and feared in his own."

The History of Middle Earth volume 5 - edited by Christopher Tolkien - The Lost Road. 1987. Paperback edition - page 77


The Lost Road is a story (precursor of the Notion Club Papers) which Tolkien began in about 1936 but never got near to completing (although he submitted some of it to his publishers - who were gently discouraging). 

JRRT's son, Christopher, has said that in decribing Numenor, Tolkien was thinking of the Nazis in Germany - who took over in 1933. 

As a philologist of Germanic languages, Germany was the centre of Tolkien's intellectual world; and he was appalled by the change in this beloved culture under National Socialism. 

In The Lost Road, he reflects on the moral conflicts of a person caught up in such political processes - where a beloved country becomes evil; and the dreadful dilemma between the short term and immediate duty to family, and the ultimate duty to 'God'. 

Much of this shortish fragment (about 35 continuous pages, with a few dozen other pages of fragments) of an unfinished novel consists of an agonized discussion between Elendil - leader of the 'good Numenoreans' - and his son Herendil who has been partially corrupted by the majority of evil Numenoreans (led, from behind the throne, by the evil demon (fallen angel) Sauron (who at that time was man-like, exceedingly beautiful, intelligent and eloquent, and of greater than human stature).  

Herendil urges his father to adopt a quietist attitude, withdrawing from public life, refraining from criticism of the regime. To be a 'good German' in the Middle Earth equivalent of a National Socialist tyranny. Elendil cannot bring himself to do this. Herendil fears the secret spies, the torture chambers, and being killed as a human sacrifice to the devilish Morgoth. 

And there the fragment stops. 


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